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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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Game Profile
PlayStation 2
GENRE: Puzzle
PLAYERS:   1-2
September 21, 2004

Katamari Forever

Beautiful Katamari

Beautiful Katamari

i Love Katamari

Beautiful Katamari

More in this Series
 Written by Adam Woolcott  on October 04, 2004

Full Review: If you don't like this game?I hate you. It's just that simple.

The Japanese are a quirky bunch. We all know this, a lot of us love this. Yet when it comes to games, we don't tend to see a lot of their quirky stuff, because it's just too odd for the American market which is seemingly locked in an endless cycle of GTA ripoffs and first person shooters everywhere. Namco has risen up though, with one of the wackiest, yet most original games on the PlayStation 2 in a long time ? Katamari Damacy. Weird from the very first opening title, the game is known as Katamari Damashii in Japan (and the actual pronouncement even though it's been spelled Damacy here), KD is a game that defies genre and classification ? a game where the whole idea is to roll up various items from Earth and use them to recreate stars is completely absurd, but the strategic depth and puzzle game feel along with the simple controls defines the game as the simplest form of gaming ? having fun. And for the low price of $20, Namco has delivered a great original title at a budget price. Though it seems to be a limited release, Katamari Damacy is an awesome pickup if you're looking for something original; only sweetened by the budget price.

The King of All Cosmos has a problem. See, he kinda?messed up a bit and made all the stars in the universe disappear on accident. And seeing that a lack of stars is a bit of a problem, he needs to fix it. So what does the mighty King do? He sends his son, the Prince, down to Earth to collect the means to remake the stars. With the help of a Katamari ? a rolling ball that things stick to ? the Prince must recreate the milky way, before all hell breaks loose, or something. All the while, the King makes crazy comments and berates the Prince. Meanwhile, a family of Lego's (or something) are visiting a space station at the same time, taking note of the vanished stars. And this is the story of Katamari Damacy; as absurd and bizarre as the game itself. You have two direct goals to achieve ? you must create stars in each of the 9 stages, recreate famous constellations and the North Star, and to top it off, you must recreate the Moon ? all by rolling stuff up with your Katamari and letting the King send it off into space. It's quirky, it's absurd, and it's totally awesome. It's even a multiplayer game ? two players can compete for the highest score, as well as attempt to spoil the other player's Katamari.

Explaining Katamari Damacy is one of the difficult things in life, but I'll try. When you begin a stage, it's just you, your Katamari, a time limit, and a ton of stuff lying around to roll up. Using just the analog sticks (the only buttons used are L1 for looking and R1 to jump), your job is to strategically roll up and collect things, to increase the size of your Katamari and be able to collect larger things, such as pretty much an entire city towards the end. On the surface it sounds probably pretty stupid, but honestly, it isn't. The simplistic controls and apparent gameplay shallowness deceive the eyes, as KD falls into the oft-ignored genre of puzzle/strategy, simply because there's so much depth to be had. You just can't roll up everything in sight, instead you have to pick up things that your Katamari can support. As you make it larger, you can carry on more stuff and quickly increase the size, creating a monstrous Katamari for the night sky. As you progress, the expectations climb, the required size increases, and the time limits get longer, yet in relative terms, shorter than the early stages. KD never gets overly challenging, though despite the relaxing tone of the game, it isn't a cakewalk either. You can't just recklessly run through a stage, as rolling into things too big for you will cause stuff to fly off, reducing your size in the long run.

It's very challenging to really explain in words how fun KD is?maybe it's the insanity of chasing after hordes of people running away from you as you sadistically roll them over and they scream in horror, taking a car off the road, even picking up an entire island when your Katamari outgrows Godzilla himself. It's just a strange game that's extremely fun and weird as hell ? I mean, when the King transports you out of levels with the Royal Rainbow which shoots out of his mouth, you know something bizarre is on hand. While the game is somewhat short, the variety actually really good ? the constellation levels are hilarious, especially the ones that require just one item to clear; it's up to you to find the best of those one items to make the King happy. Another stage asks for a Katamari of around 10 meters in size ? and yet, you don't know when you've hit 10 meters, and you can't just endlessly roll either or you'll go way over and irritate the king. There's even hidden stuff like Royal Presents which lets you deck the Prince out in different attire/accessories, and the whole ?high score' feel of the old days really comes alive here. Don't take my word for it though ? Katamari Damacy is a game to be experienced on your own, not read about - the surreal atmosphere, simple yet tough gameplay, and a fun level well over the legal limit is just too good to be ignored. It may not be for everyone, but everyone needs to try it, especially the vocal bitchers complaining about the lack of original games these days.

Katamari's graphics aren't the best around, but they do their job. It's colorful and cluttered with stuff and doesn't slow down, but it doesn't push the PS2's power. Yet, the wacky feel of the game is represented well thanks to the crazy designs of the people and items, and there's a very nice effect that makes the world larger as your Katamari grows, making it easier for you to tell what can be collected and what cannot. Eventually, even the huge things like skyscrapers are little peas you can roll over without feeling a bump, and entire islands are like dots. It happens slowly and actually somewhat transparently, which is a really neat little trick. On the other hand, the larger your Katamari gets, the tougher it is to see around the tight camera perspective ? pressing L1 to look is fine but it takes up precious seconds where you could be rolling stuff up to beat the necessary score. And later on, the last stage has a moment where you're so big, you're above the clouds (if you're not collecting them!) and the game gets kinda milky looking and it's tough to see. But otherwise, it's a serviceable enough game visually, which is good enough.

On the other hand, the audio is bliss. The quirky Japanese soundtrack is perfect, with jazz, J-pop, techno, lounge, etc. It just varies drastically from level to level, though it repeats from time to time. It all fits the surreal world of KD completely. The weird interlude cutscenes with the Lego family have some insane voice acting though it fits again. The King also speaks, but in a gibberish tongue that sounds like a record scratching?very weird. And of course, the various sound effects of rolling stuff up ? telephones ringing, cats meowing, children laughing as they roll around, cops shooting at you, adults screaming in terror as they're swept up ? almost sounds like Grand Theft Auto at times. There's just so much wacky and silly stuff in Katamari Damacy, it's just one of those games that's too insane to ignore.

Bottom Line
There are no other games available on any console with the charm and quirkiness of Katamari Damacy. None. Silly, absurd, and wacky, but innovative, creative, and original all the same, KD is one of those games that was given a chance here, and many have already accepted it with open arms. It might be a bit strange, especially for those not raised in the old days when fun was the #1 priority, but if you're really looking for something completely different from the norm?this is it. For $20, there are few other games that could be as high-quality for that price, but Katamari Damacy is a steal for a Jackson. I'd suggest finding it now though, because like many other ?weird' games, it will likely not sit on store shelves for a very long time ? meaning paying way over MSRP on eBay might be the only means. Namco deserves props for taking a chance with Katamari Damacy ? now pay them back by giving this original game a try.

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